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Charulata Ravi Kumar
Charulata Ravi Kumar

Managing Director, Accenture

Talking about design reminds me of the ancient era when digital was talked about as the new kid on the block. And just like digital is now part of every function’s DNA, design too must be seen and practiced that way. 

Traditional design itself is passé! If it doesn’t impact human lives, if it doesn’t change the world in any way, then the idea will make its way from the lab to the litter in no time. The decade that witnessed a digital dump has been a result of indiscriminate digitisation of anything and everything without a thought to its sustainability or need. It has taken over our lives in a way where humans are desperately seeking to disentangle and embrace a better life. The problem? We just don’t know what that better could look or feel like…

Human-Centred Design aims to do just that. To bring syzygy to aesthetics, purpose and impact to human lives and this world. Design, in its traditional definition (and believed still by many), is a manifestation of a product to its aesthetic best. And you would be gaffed at if you correlate the ‘mundane’ functions of logistics or finance to design. Human-Centred design plays a key role in the success of a product or service or even a process by providing the framework for understanding the customer and her needs and hurdles and solving for it by rigorous testing to get to a better, sustainable solution.

A key reason for design taking centre-stage has been the shift in the core values people seek from products and services. What satiated their ego and pleasure once now must cater to bringing calm and uncluttered living. To this, products like the Light Phone series aims to conquer digital addiction through design, catering to what we may call it ‘design therapy’.

The emergence of the new Circular Economy, where users and manufacturers are co-creating more sustainable products and services through responsible design. The need of humanity, and not human needs, must be given far greater importance to ensure that tomorrow’s world exists. This requires a strategy of “Future First” Design such as replacing single use plastic components with natural bio-degradable ones.

Brands like Adidas are collaborating with organizations like Parley (#fortheOceans) to address threats to the oceanic ecosystem and reuse plastics that would otherwise have found their way into the bellies of unsuspecting ocean creatures. Nike Flyknit, Everlane and Patagonia are also amongst those that use plastics, fishing nets and other sea enemies and have become top trending fashion products. The influencing power of the millennials and their increasing awareness on health and planet protection is forcing companies to adopt sustainable design options to virgin plastics.

Let’s shift our attention from products to services. The design world has for long been focussing on delivering aesthetics around physical products. The big American cars of the 60s, that satiated big egos around the world lost their crown to the sophisticated engineering of the Germans. This in turn is sprinting against the smaller economical rides the overcrowded streets demand today and the luxury electric cars that come feature loaded. 

This trend evolved to cars that are designed for comfort, safety and experience and more recently, to those that deliver to a larger global cause of emission control. All was going well…But hey honey! You shrunk my roads! What use is your design in my daily battle to commute? And automotive industry began to move from a product-based one to a service-based solution provider. The young are discarding car ownership in their quest to live an unencumbered life. And Ubers and Lyfts are designing service models that solve for this menace.

However, an end-to-end mobility service remains underserviced. Distributed modal services that also integrate multiple modes of transport and seamless delivery tools that can automate for speedy service will need to be built into the design. The Government of India is mandating emission control and pushing service providers like Uber and Ola to make 40% of their fleet EV by 2026. On the one hand, aggregators may have to collaborate and rationalise their offering to survive and a new service model that keeps customer experience first will become imperative. While on the other, designing for a better future will be default. 

Organizations need to redesign their teams to reflect new needs of the new world’s peoples. A design team must not restrict itself to product designers. It must be a collaborative ideation by a team that includes Customer Experience and Sustainability Designers and very importantly Service Process Designers. You may be asking yourself, do such roles exist? Not yet. But then so didn’t Digital Managers until a few years ago.?

From micro to macro, design will need to be in the DNA of city-planning, allowing for rapid dynamic designing, adapt to changing needs that citizen data highlights. In large countries like India, we need to design a process to capture such data and insights through connected systems. Smart Cities that boast of digital connectivity will not be sustainable if infrastructure design lags behind. 

Design went unmeasured earlier. But today CXOs are convinced of its impact and are beginning to attribute higher revenues and ROI to this. The evolving circular economy will bring a more focussed approach to designing around the product, service and the complete process to deliver real value that impacts all around and brings a new future. And governments around the world are backing designs that change their people’s lives and co-own the responsibility of sustainability. 

As we consciously begin to bring design dimensions into all aspects of our living, making this a default in shaping the future will be every human’s responsibility. 

Charulata Ravi Kumar, will be speaking at NASSCOM Design4India Design Summit 2019 “Embed 3.0: Unleashing the Power of Design Disruption”. Join us as we explore bleeding-edge conversations around design and technology that are contributing to the next wave of innovations throughout the world.
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